Friday, July 21, 2006


Title: Darkman (1990)
Dir: Sam Raimi
Rating: *** out of 5 stars

I had seen most of this as a kid, but I consider this my first real, whole viewing. Hence this review.

I believe this is Raimi's weirdest film, even over Crimewave. The visuals are so wild that they are occasionally off-putting. Nevertheless, Darkman showed Sam growing as a director. You can really see him testing the waters with this film. Some moments go too far, but other moments are shining brilliance. This was the first piece of evidence that Raimi could direct a unique comic-book movie, and yet Darkman is nothing like Spider-Man. The former is dark. Real dark.

Just as Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is on the verge of a scientific breakthrough, he is targeted by a gang of criminals in search of a valuable document. They burn down his laboratory and leave him for dead. Once he recovers, he seeks out his fiancee (Frances McDormand) and plots revenge against the men who scarred him physically and emotionally.

Darkman is sorta like Alan Moore's V, except much darker. Not once does he help a citizen in distress. Not once does he target criminals to make society safer. No, it's all about personal revenge here. He's not even a hero, really, just an angry, bitter scientist. In fact, he's the kind of guy Spider-Man usually fights. So in essence this film centers on the villain. I like that! It does make it hard to sympathize with him, but I'm not sure if I was ever suppose to.

Neeson rocks (as always). It's near impossible to stifle a laugh when he uses his "Darkman voice", but I laughed the same way when Christian Bale grunted "Swear to meeee!" in Batman Begins. McDormand is also good, and Larry Drake makes one slimy, memorable villain. And for Raimi afficionados, there are endless cameos including Ted Raimi, Dan Hicks, Ivan Raimi, John Landis, Bruce Campbell, and the Coen Brothers.

So how 'bout them visuals? There's a wacky carnival scene that creeps the hell out of me. Tilting cameras, bouncing clown-puppet-things, laughing people yelling "Freak!" It's pretty cool. And
when Peyton loses his temper, the background begins to crack and spew fire and do other crazy things I can't even describe with words. The only downside is the technical limitations on Raimi's creativity. The FX were just too bold for 1990. Or at least too bold for Darkman's budget. Consequently, they look cheesy and animated. But I think any keen film lover will appreciate what Sam was going for. And if you look at this from a comic book perspective, the cartoonish visuals may be exactly what the film needed!

It can't break my Raimi Top-3, but Darkman is an interesting little picture worth seeing. I think this is a classic case of a director building to something better (although his prior films were anything but shabby). The tragic anti-hero story had a lot of potential, even if it is somewhat lost in the Hollywood action and wild visuals. If you can look passed the 1980's FX, the movie has some really unique, spectacular moments that shouldn't be missed.